People & Society

Gender based violence – in conversation with women rights activists

In the last decade, a lot of conversations and dialogues have sprung up around gender-based violence. Although the #MeToo movement got mainstreamed and many people came out to talk about the magnitude of gender-based violence, Pakistan is still lagging behind the rest of the world.

According to a report by Amnesty USA presenting the findings of Thomson Reuters Foundation’s project, Pakistan ranks in the bottom three worst countries in the world, faring better than only Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A series of roundtable discussions and dialogue at the Adab Fest 2020 has attempted at answering a lot of questions and examining the major factors at play around this theme. Numerous women activists, lawyers, and influencers working in the gender space participated in the discussion, including Kausar Saeed Khan, Seema Shaikh, Shumaila Hussain Shahani, Uzma Noorani, Asha Bedar, and Maleeha Zia Lari. The session was moderated by Noorulain Masood.  

There are many manifestations of gender based violence in our society but very few people talk about them. “Last month, 23 accused were charged with sedition in Islamabad and 9 were charged with the same offense in Bannu,” said Shumaila Hussain Shahani, a human rights activist and lawyer.

Only a fraction of the news of forced marriages, sex trafficking, child molestation, rape, child marriages, acid attacks etc. make it to mainstream media and the situation is way more grave than portrayed.

After attempting at understanding the forms (physical, sexual, and mental) of abuse and the sources of perpetration (domestic, social/societal, and state backed), the discussion went on to answer why these instances occur regularly in our society and what myths and misconceptions are associated with them.

Many attendees accepted that the existence of gender-based violence is due to the power dynamics of relationships and the feudal mindsets of the masses. Religious and cultural aspects also add to the problem.

Talking to the audience, Asha Bedar highlighted the trauma associated with emotional and financial abuse. Because emotional abuse cannot be traced back to the perpetrator, as opposed to physical abuse, it is very difficult to hold the predator accountable, she said.

Rape in Pakistan Penal Code and Marital Rape

In Pakistan many cases are not registered, especially in the cases of domestic violence where police personnel do not file a complaint. Cases of sexual violence (rape and sodomy) however, have a different weightage and are discussed at length.

Maleeha Zia Lari, another lawyer and women rights activist shed some light on rape and its definition and implications in the Pakistan Penal Code.

Prior to 2006, rape was considered as an act of penetration/intercourse with a woman other than one’s wife, but the concept of consent has been taken into account now. Rape is “an act of penetration with a woman without her consent after the amendment of 2006,” said Lari.

This clarifies a lot of questions associated with marital rape.

Consent has always been a gray area. Lari educated the audience through various examples of when consent is not exactly consent, for example:

  • In the case of minors (girls and boys under the age of 16)
  • Under the condition that consent was granted due to the fear of murder
  • Intercourse with people not of sane mind 

Denial and Victim Blaming

Talking to the audience, these women rights activists said that society blames the victims even when the cases are reported.

Real life cases from Panah’s case directory were discussed where predators had been associated with the survivors and had befriended them.

Psychological manipulation and denial are the worst ways in which society reacts. In cases of incest for instance, the society refuses to accept that a father, brother, or uncle can be involved in such heinous crimes.

Kausar Saeed Khan urged the audience to come forward though, since silence is not an option. “Civil society has to help the survivors open up,” she said.

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